Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: The Journal of a Virginia Girl, 1862-64, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, was published because of its noteworthy contribution to the history of its period, but it also provides a number of vignettes which may be of interest to Pittsylvania-oriented readers.
Lucy Breckinridge was born in Botetourt County, Virginia, and her prominent family (her father was Cary Breckinridge, her mother Emma Gilmer) had close family and social ties all across Virginia. Lucy writes about two Pittsylvania connections: her uncles John Gilmer and the Rev. George Wilmer, both of whom lived in Pittsylvania Court House (Chatham). One other uncle, George Gilmer, also resided in Chatham.
The Rev. George T. Wilmer, D. D. (whose first wife was Lucy's maternal aunt, Mary Peachy Gilmer), had, before pastoring 1859-1866 at the Emmanuel Church in Chatham, been rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg 1856-1859. (Earlier, Wilmer's father was president of William and Mary College and also rector of Bruton Parish Church.) The physical location of the Rev. Wilmer's residence in Chatham is not known. During a significant portion of the wartime years, Gilmer was away from Pittsylvania, serving as a chaplain to Confederate soldiers.
Maude Carter Clement explains (History of Pittsylvania County, p. 216) that “John Gilmer…settled in Chatham in early manhood to practice law. He built a beautiful home on an eastern hill overlooking the village where the Chatham Hall now stands. He represented the county in the General Assembly from 1857-65. He married Miss Eliza Patton of Richmond and had issue: John Patton, William W., Tazwell, Mercer, James, Lindsay, Mary R., and Isabelle.”
A further note on p. 24 of Mrs. Clement's The Early Homes of Chatham mentions that Cary Breckinridge Wilmer (evidently a son of the Rev. Wilmer and namesake of Lucy's father), who “graduated from William and Mary College in 1876 at the age of seventeen years…became a member of the [John Gilmer] family as tutor for the older Gilmer boys. He remained in this capacity…until he became twenty-one years old, when he accepted the position of principal of the Chatham Public School, serving from 1881 to 1883.”
The John Gilmer residence burned in the Chatham Hall fire in 1906.
Although Lucy did not specifically mention him in her diary, her Uncle George Gilmer, who served as judge of the local circuit court from 1853 to 1860 (see Clement's The Early Homes of Chatham, p. 6), lived with his family in The Oaks on the northern side of Pittsylvania Court House. Now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry C. Hurt, Jr., The Oaks is accessed by a street called, appropriately, Gilmer Circle. Mrs. Clement notes that “The Judge was a lover of the fox chase, and maintained a small pack of hounds at his Chatham home in which the dog Bugle was a prime favorite.”
In a September 10, 1864, entry in her diary, Lucy Breckinridge records that she has written her soldier fiance, Thomas Jefferson Bassett, to ask him “not to insist upon my being married this winter as I want to go to Pittsylvania.” Today's visitors to Chatham Hall hill and Gilmer Circle can perhaps understand the peaceful ambience which drew her.
Already the the war had taken her first fiance and two of her five brothers, and a third brother would be killed in the spring of 1865. Apparently the pressures and losses of wartime contributed to Lucy and Tom's decision, in spite of her previous request, to marry on January 28, 1865. Sadly, Lucy died of typhoid fever in June, never having fulfilled, as far as is known, her wish to see Pittsylvania again.
Yanks, Rebels, Rats, & Rations
Union Army Camp Cooking
Confederate Camp Cooking
Confederate Home Cooking
Northern Ladies' Civil War Recipes
Cooking for the Cause
Civil War Plants & Herbs
Home Front Regiment 1861-1865: Women Fighting from the Hearth
Civil War Celebrations
This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.
Copyright © 1998–2006 Patricia B. Mitchell.